IN HER last work, Interior Castle, St. Teresa remarks that instability of spiritual states is often a cause of bewilderment to spiritual aspirants. They felt sure that what they experienced at times of devotion in favourable circumstances would be with them for ever; when they found later that somehow it had gone, they were liable to lose confidence and give up. A Zen master, discussing the same point, compares the spiritual path to a journey in a rowing boat along a coast where there is a strong tide. Half the time it helps, and half the time the tide is against. Beginners usually enter on the practice when things are favourable, and they make rapid progress up to a point, but when they find the “tide” has changed, many of them become discouraged because they find they can hardly advance any further, and they stop trying. So the contrary tide carries them back over nearly all the distance they had come. When it again runs for them, they make new efforts and the spiritual qualities they had lost become manifest once more, but when it changes, they give up as before and are carried back, losing the spiritual intuitions and …

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Bodidharma – The First Zen Patriarch in China

THERE is a Buddhist tradition that when the Worldhonoured One was at the assembly on the Vulture Mount a man offered him a golden flower and asked him to preach the holy Doctrine. The Buddha twisted the flower in his fingers, showing it to the people in perfect silence. All were bewildered and at a loss for his meaning except the disciple Kashyapa who quietly smiled at the teacher. The Buddha then said there had been a transmission of the inmost spirit of his teaching to Kashyapa who was to be his successor and to whom he gave his robe and begging-bowl. Kashyapa, having thus become the First Patriarch, later transmitted the secret in the same way ” from mind to mind ” to Ananda, and so the succession continued. The patriarchs of the Buddha-mind transmission (now generally known by its Japanese name Zen) include some of the greatest names in Indian Buddhism, Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva and Vasubandhu. The Twenty-seventh Patriarch was called Prajnatara, and it is said that he was once invited to the religious assembly of a king in Eastern India. Noticing that the distinguished guest did not occupy himself all the time in reading the scriptures as …

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Categories TPL


THE Zen sect of Buddhism developed in China and still flourishes in Japan. It is a path of knowledge (prajna) rather than devotion, and the goal is realization (Satori in Japanese). Before Satori can be attained, the deep-seated convictions of the absolute reality of the world ordinarily experienced, and consequent doubts as to practicability of realization, have to be dissolved. During training, they come to the surface in spiritual crises of great intensity. In the 13th century in China, certain schools of Zen developed a system of confronting the disciple with the core of a spiritual crisis experienced by a master of the past. It is presented as a sort of riddle. All elements of the personality have to be brought into play and focused on it; when the concentration finally attains Samadhi, the meditator and the riddle are no longer two. The Samadhi must be repeated till it becomes strong enough to continue without relapsing into other thoughts or speech. As the karma ripens, there is a flash, and the disciple enters into the realization attained by that ancient master; he is able to give the classical answer, and give it from the standpoint of realization. (The classical answers …


Categories Zen

The Enlightenment of Zen Master Hakuin

IN the spring of 1704, when he was nineteen and already a monk, Hakuin went to the Zen community at Aomizu. The master was discoursing to the public on the history of Buddhism in China, and mentioned Gen-Tao, a famous master of the Tang Dynasty, in whose time Buddhism was subjected to persecution. After the lecture he thought he would like to find out some details about this master’s life, and went by himself to read Gen-Tao’s life in one of the histories. The following phrases caught his eye : ” Master (sen-Tao told his disciples one day : `When I go, I shall go with a great shout.’ In fact this master was killed by brigands. As they drew their knives, he stood perfectly calm, and just before he was killed he gave one great cry, which was heard a long way away.” This story produced a great uncertainty in Hakuin’s mind. Master Gen-Tao had been the great religious genius of his century, and yet he had not been able to escape the brigands. What hope, then, was there for himself? Why had he left the world? He fell into complete discouragement, and thought of taking up poetry as …

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Categories Zen


HIS teacher gave him as a text for meditation an answer made by an ancient Chinese teacher named the Master of the Cloud-gate.        This was a single word meaning a frontier-gate or mountain-pass. He told him “Throw your whole spirit into the word ‘Pass’. You should have no other occupation ; it must become your whole life.” From that time he entered wholely into Zen, receiving a hard training from his teacher, who was abbot of a large monastery. It was as if he had swallowed a burning iron ball ;he tried to bring it. up but could not do so. There was nothing else except the mountain pass ; for nearly three years he was going deeper and deeper into it. After this his teacher went to Kamakura to become head of the famous Kenchoji monastery, and he followed to serve on his teacher. One day came the traditional experience of ” letting go “. All the worlds became one Sound ; heaven and earth were split open ; suddenly he went through the pass. Sweat coursed down his body : he danced and cried : ” How long was the path the same and unbroken ! ” The …


Categories Zen


(The Priest Bankei lived in Japan in the 16th Century A.D.) MY father was a Ronin (samurai) of Shikoku, and my parents were Confucians. Soon after I was born my father died and I was brought up by my mother. My mother said I was the leader among the children and a naughty boy. From the time when I was only three years, I hated to hear the word ” death “. If I was crying and somebody imitated a dead man, or even talked about dying, I stopped crying, or if I was up to some mischief I at once became quiet. As I got older, my mother taught me how to read the Confucian classics, especially the ” Great Learning “. When I was reading it I came across the phrase : ” The way of the Great Learning is to make the Bright Virtue shine forth.” I wondered what that Bright Virtue might be but could not understand what was meant, and for a long time pondered on it. When I asked a group of Confucian believers what Bright Virtue was, and what sort of thing was meant by the words, no one knew.   One of them …


Categories TPL

Help, No Help

SOMETIMES a new idea can change the whole landscape of endeavour, so to say: everything appears in quite a different light. This applies to most fields of human activity, but in the case of spiritual endeavours it has some special overtones. Take the case of doing certain jobs for the spiritual group. Naturally everyone would like to choose their job; someone good at adding would like to do the accounts, and someone good at gardening would like to help in the garden. But as the Christian saying has it, a cross selected is no true cross. To do what one can do well where others can see it, is an assertion of personality, and it has not much value as a discipline, though the community may get some benefit from it. (Even that benefit is usually offset by the unconscious arrogance of the expert, perpetually putting others right, or taking things off their hands to do them better.) Reason‑in‑the‑service‑of‑the‑ego, or Mephistopheles, argues that it must be best to offer one’s service in a field where one can make a really significant contribution. But while there is the‑ feeling ‘I am making a really significant contribution’ training has not begun. If …

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If you’re going to die, die quick!

I knew a Japanese woman, who was a Christian, whose mother had trained in Zen under a great teacher, at the end of the last century. The daughter told me a story about her mother (which the mother had related to her once, very privately). She became very ill, and she went to her Zen teacher and told him that the doctors had hinted to her that she was going to die, that the illness was fatal. The teacher said, “After three years nobody will miss you.” She said, I’m going to die. Can’t you’ help me?” He shouted, ‑If you’re going to die, die quick!” ‑ pushed her out of the room and slammed the sliding doors behind her. So she went into the mountains to die quick.  She went to a cave. On the second night she had a vision of Bodhisattvas, standing in a vast space. Something changed inside her and she came down and recovered. She became a very famous figure in Zen and the daughter told me that people came from all over Japan to meet her. The teacher might not have said that to just anyone – it’s a pretty tough reply. Although I …

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Leaves and Moss

Leaves and Moss by Trevor Leggett In some Japanese Temples, moss is cultivated as a symbol of inner realization. Its progress cannot be forced, and the cultivation in fact amounts to removing the obstacles to the natural growth. If they are patiently and continuously got rid of, however, it makes a surprisingly rapid advance. Moss, like realization, has a great inner strength against even extremes of change in the environment; under very warm or very dry conditions, mosses can become dormant, and quickly revive and grow again when conditions improve. If they feel like it, some of them can keep on growing even on hot, dry and exposed rocks. Most of them, however, grow best in shady and moist environments, and so in the temple gardens where they are cultivated, small trees are planted which shed their leaves at different times of year, thus providing a certain amount of shade almost all the time. A huge training temple like Eiheiji of the Soto Zen sect has a good number of courtyards covered with moss, and one of the daily jobs is to do some weeding out of competitors, and then to sweep the moss clear of fallen leaves. This is …

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True Man of No Rank

Recently I wrote about a general impression that foreigners have, that Japanese people tend to put everyone into some rank or relative position.  The rank or position determines what the person is.  I have heard a Japanese say (and have read similar remarks) that without all the personal connections and relations, “I should be no more than a pinpoint on a blank sheet of paper”.  When we think just of brothers, they think of elder brother and younger brother; in other words, there is a fine distinction between the ranks.  Of course in life, people can change their ranks, and when they do, Japanese society treats them differently.  Or so it seems to us.  Seniority seems to account for a very great deal in companies.   Japanese are supposed to like long-lasting relations; they want to stay in a company for life if possible.  All this is the familiar picture as seen by a foreigner. But there are some of us who discover something very different in the Japanese character.   I think this may have something to do with the True Man Without Rank, though I believe that it has considerably altered the original idea.   In my personal experience, I came …

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Spiritual Schools

” Whoever always meditates on Him, whether from desire, anger, fear, affection, friendship, or reverence, surely becomes one with Him.”-Shrimad Bhagavat. ” He worships Me with his whole being.”-Gita. The tradition in all great mystical schools is that to have Enlightenment it is necessary to study under a teacher. The teacher is one who knows the Scriptures, who has woken up from the illusion of the passing world, and who has realized in his own experience the identity of the individual soul with the all-pervading Spirit. The teacher does not speak as an individual ; his voice is the voice of Reality, though heard from the mouth of a man. To grasp this point, take the case of a dream.  It is a fact, established by Freud among others, that a dream tries to protect its existence against the incursions of reality. If a bell rings in the sleeper’s room, the dream at once incorporates this incompatible element into itself, and builds with lightning rapidity a scene into which the sound ofa bell fits naturally. Similarly, if someone says : ” Wake up ! You are dreaming ! ” the words are transferred to one of the characters of the …

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One of the great means of instruction is telling tales. The Sufi classic Mathnavi, and the Zen writings, are full of them. The stories are not fully explained; we are expected to find the inner meaning by our own efforts. Pondering on a story is compared to churning milk; it has to be turned and revolved again and again without interruption for a good time till quite suddenly butter begins to appear. Sometimes disciples try to insulate themselves by simply naming some of the characters-this one represents the lower mind` and that one the teacher, and so on. Such facile identifications can be made in hundreds of ways, and they do not help in finding the secret. They are attempts to seek safety` to avoid the implication of the story. “The world”, says the Mathnavi, “resembles the great big city which you may hear of from children’s tales. In their tales is enfolded many a mystery. Though they tell many ridiculous things` yet do thou ever seek the treasure that is hidden in the ruins”. We must find the treasure for ourselves` because it is in us. “Do not pass over the story as of no account` for it is …

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“Our teacher,” said a disciple to a friend of his, “won’t let us take notes when he gives his sermons. Still, he always speaks on one of the classical texts, so as soon as possible afterwards, a group of us meet together and recover as much as we can from memory. With the basic text to consult, we can between us recall nearly everything that he’s said, and then we can get it down. ” “But why won’t he allow notes while he’s speaking?” asked the friend. “‘Yes, we’d always wondered that”, went on the disciple. “He just says at the beginning of every year that he doesn’t want us to take notes. None of us felt we had the right to ask him; I mean, a teacher’s decision mustn’t be questioned, must it? But we thought we’d like to know. “Well, one day, when we knew that some outsiders would be coming, we got a notebook and pencil ready. When we saw one keen-looking fellow going in, we just gave them to him. We didn’t say anything (the teacher wouldn’t have liked that), but we assumed that he’d probably make a note or two. “And so he did. Soon …

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Lions and Tigers

LIONS AND TIGERS “All living beings have been Buddhas from the very beginning. It is like ice and water : apart from water no ice can exist.” Hakuin’s Meditation Song. The most troublesome problem for human nature in any age is the question of reputation and profit. Its solution means the difference between ignorance and enlightenment, between sinking and swimming. There are only two paths : to make use of reputation and profit as their master, or to be driven by them as their slave. Generally people take the second. On this point there is an amusing story. A great tiger, the pride of a certain Zoo, died. The proprietor was greatly worried about the effect on the Zoo’s popularity, and finally evolved a plan to have the dead tiger stuffed and hire someone to get inside it and imitate a living tiger. It was difficult to find a man, but in the end by including in the salary a daily ration of two gallons of rice-wine, he got a drunken good-for-nothing to take on the job. Every day this man got into the skin of the stuffed tiger and postured in the cage before the audience, occasion ally having …

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